Barcelona ended a difficult week on a positive note, returning to the top of La Liga with a 3-0 victory at home to Malaga on Sunday at the Camp Nou.
Gerard Pique scored in the first half before Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez sealed the points with second-half strikes.
“In the first half we were dominant. We scored a goal but we could’ve done more, Pique said, per Inside Spanish Football. "In the second half it was much easier. We were in control throughout the 90 minutes."
The win came following the resignation of Barcelona president Sandro Rosell on Thursday. Barca's on-pitch form had dipped recently as well after draws in their last two league matches, but Sunday's three-point haul took the Blaugrana back to the top of the league.
Lionel Messi, playing his first league match at the Camp Nou since Nov. 1, did not score but did assist one goal and helped set up another. Pedro and Alexis each moved onto 12 league goals this season, joint-most in the side.
"Leo always helps with goals but also helps with other things," said Pique, per Inside Spanish Football. "When he doesn’t score, he assists."
Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino made seven changes to the side that won 4-1 at Levante on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey. Victor Valdes reclaimed his starting spot in goal, while Pique, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba started in defence. Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas slotted into the midfield, while Alexis started in the attack.
Neymar remained sidelined with an ankle injury. Cristian Tello, who scored a hat trick against Levante, returned to the bench.
In the fifth minute, Alexis clipped a shot wide of the far post from a tight angle on the right. One minute later, Xavi forced a save from Willy Caballero with a swerving free kick.
Valdes had to be alert in the ninth minute to save Duda's free kick, though replays showed the shot might have been sailing wide of the post.
Messi had a sight of goal in the 22nd minute after receiving a pass with time and space in the box, but with Caballero racing off his line, Messi shot wide of the far post. Five minutes later, Pedro should have had a chance after collecting a rebound in the middle of the box, but he slipped before shooting.
As the first half wore on, both sides continued to produce chances. Valdes made a fine reaction save in the 31st minute from Marcos Angeleri's flicked header, and at the other end two minutes later, Caballero stopped Alba's shot from the left.
Messi then picked out Alba with a clever chipped pass on the left in the 39th minute, but Alba's chipped shot landed on top of the goal.
Barca's breakthrough finally came in the 40th minute from a well-executed set piece.
Xavi curled in a corner from the right, and Alexis flicked the ball toward the back post for Gerard Pique, who controlled with his first touch before sweeping into the net for a 1-0 half-time lead.
After the break, Barcelona went straight back into the attack. Xavi set up Alexis in the 52nd minute, but Alexis saw his shot from the right saved by Caballero. The Malaga keeper saved spectacularly again two minutes later, scooping away Cesc's chipped, close-range effort.
Caballero was beaten in the 54th minute, but Pique's header hit the crossbar. However, Barcelona's attack was relentless, and within moments, the hosts were ahead 2-0.
Alves started a flowing move down the middle in the 55th minute before passing to Messi, who laid off for Pedro on the left. Pedro cut inside and curled his finish into the net at the far post.
Six minutes later, Barcelona sealed the points with their third goal. True to form, it came from another flowing move.
Cesc started the move on the right, passing to Messi in the middle. Messi created space for himself with a superb turn before speeding toward the box. Near the edge of the area, he laid off for Pedro, who crossed back to the right for Alexis to tap in from close range.
The third goal killed off the match, and Barcelona cruised to the victory over the final half-hour. In the closing minutes, Ibrahim Afellay entered the match to make his first Barcelona appearance since May 2012.
|Barcelona Player Ratings vs. Malaga|
|Ibrahim Afellay||MID||N/A||No rating|
Barcelona host Levante on Wednesday for the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal. Barca return to the league on Saturday with a home match against Valencia.
Malaga host Sevilla in the league on Saturday.
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